Waxwings are infrequent visitors to the UK as they only come here when food is scarce in Scandinavia. They are handsome birds and you should consider yourself very lucky if you get to see them. I was lucky at the end of December 2012 when I joined friends ‘twitching’ a Tesco car park where waxwings had been reported. We had no difficulty finding 45 birds sitting boldly in a small birch in the car park. Their unmistakeable russet crest, black eye mask and yellow tail bar were easy to see. They were continually dropping down to feed on the berries of a low cotoneaster hedge, planted all around the car park to improve its appearance. They grabbed berries as fast as they could before nervously flying back up into the tree. Cotoneaster is not a native British plant but it’s flowers are attractive to bees and insects in spring and, in winter, it’s berries are sought out by thrushes, blackbirds and winter visitors such as waxwings. We, and other watchers, stayed for a while to enjoy this bird spectacle, keeping our distance so that the birds could feed. Thankfully they did not appear to be disturbed by us, or any of the to-ings and fro-ings of people and cars. A great sighting, even if it meant standing in Tesco’s car park… Just a few days later, in January 2013 we were lucky to see more waxwings and this time we found them ourselves. Again they were in a populated place, Jeskyns Country Park, more busy than usual as it was still the school holidays. Families walked past, often with dogs, but a small flock of about 30 birds sitting together in apple trees, continued to feed and were only driven away later when a small excitable dog ran under their tree. This time they were feeding on fallen apples, staying on the ground only briefly before flying up to the safety of the trees. It was easy to walk past this group, as many people did. However, when we pointed them out to some of the families returning to the car park they were astonished to see such lovely birds so close by.We had a third sighting, two days later, of three waxwings on the Isle of Sheppey – in hawthorns lining a very fast and busy main road.
The waxwings we saw were in busy places in the human environment, near roads, in supermarket car parks, in busy parks, obviously places where there is hedging planted to enhance the landscape. It would be nice to know that there are plenty of natural berry sources in our countryside too, so that waxwings can feed in wild places. It is still so important for landowners to plant hedgerows with native berrying trees such as hawthorns, to help out all birds in winter including our Scandinavian visitors.